August 4, 2017
Photos by Jonathan Fong

Your dinner table can be well-dressed and eco-friendly when you transform an old shirt into a stack of napkins, complete with the original collar to hold the set together. I also like to keep a lot of the shirt details such as the pocket and buttons intact to give the napkins more charm. The napkin with the pocket can even hold silverware — or hide a piece of tough brisket you couldn’t chew.

Every year, millions of paper napkins end up in landfills, and new cloth napkins require a huge amount of resources and chemicals in their manufacturing, so these upcycled shirt napkins are a more sustainable choice that also make great gifts.

What you need:

  • Men’s shirt, size large or extra large
  • Pen
  • Ruler
  • Scissors
  • Iron
  • Sewing machine or no-sew tape
  • Safety pin




A large men’s shirt can yield 10 napkins. Lay the shirt flat on a table. Use a pen and ruler to divide the shirt into rectangular sections — four on the front, four on the back and two from the sleeves. Use the photo above as a guide. Notice that the divider lines do not cut across the front pocket, as you will want to keep that in one piece.



Cut the shirt into sections with sharp scissors. There will be very little waste, as almost the entire shirt is utilized. On the front and back sides, only the armpit area is excluded  — which works out fine because no one really wants to wipe their mouth on a napkin made from a shirt’s armpit.



Cut a rectangular section from the middle of each sleeve. Then, cut that section lengthwise so the rectangle lies flat. Save the unused parts of the sleeve for rags or to make cocktail napkins in the future. Oh, and save the collar. You will need that later.



You can leave the edges of each napkin unfinished, but I like to hem them. (Some edges, like the sides with the buttonholes, do not need to be hemmed because they were not cut.) Start by folding over each unfinished edge and ironing it flat.



With a sewing machine, sew the edges that you just ironed. If you do not sew, try a no-sew alternative such as fabric tape, a double-sided adhesive for fabric that is machine washable. You can also use iron-on fusible web, which looks like a roll of tape — place a piece of it in the seam, and when you iron it the seam becomes fused.



All 10 napkins will be slightly different in size. To stack them neatly in a set, fold them so the sizes are uniform. Finally, take the shirt collar, button it, and wrap it around the stack of napkins. The collar will be wider than the napkins, so adjust the collar with a safety pin in the back for a snug fit.

Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at jonathanfongstyle.com.

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